Bowl season starts Saturday with four MW teams in action

A record seven Mountain West football teams made it to bowl games. The old record was six in 2013.

Four of those teams will play their bowl games Saturday, the first day of the bowl season. Here’s who I think will win and why. As the other bowl games with MW teams approach, I will pick those as well. As always, your feedback is encouraged.

New Orleans Bowl — Nevada (7-5) vs. Louisiana (8-4), 9 a.m. MT (ESPN)

This is basically a road game for Nevada as it plays the in-state school that is playing in this game for the fourth consecutive year. The Ragin’ Cajuns won the previous three.

The two teams are evenly matched. Nevada averages 31.3 points per game; Louisiana (8-4) averages 30.6. Nevada allows 28.2 points per game; Louisiana 27.9. Both teams also have dual-threat quarterbacks: Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and Louisiana’s Terrance Broadway.

Nevada is good enough to win this game, but I am sticking with Ragin’ Cajuns as it will have the definite home-field advantage. Plus, Nevada will kickoff this game at 8 a.m. PT on their own time clocks. It may take the Wold Pack a while to wake up.. Louisiana 34, Nevada 28.

New Mexico Bowl — Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5), 12:20 p.m. MT (ESPN)

UTEP averages 212.7 rushing yards per game, and Utah State allows only 129.3 rushing yards per contest. Utah State also is a more well-rounded team offensively and defensively.

UTEP has allowed 46 touchdowns this season, compared to 33 for Utah State. The Aggies may take a little time to get going on offense, but their defense will carry them to an easy victory. Utah State 38, UTEP 20.

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Mountain West football power rankings/picks – Week 13

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi with his weekly installment of the Mountain West football power rankings and picks for Week 13 of the college football season. Look for this every week during the football season, and as always, your feedback is welcome.

1. Colorado State (9-1 overall, 5-1 MW): Remains No. 1 coming off a bye week. Winners of eight straight and the only MW team ranked in the polls, yet needs a Boise State loss to win the Mountain Division (assuming the Rams win out). Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson was notified last week by the Heisman Trust that he is a candidate to win this year’s award. He’s good, but not sure he’s that good. This week: vs. New Mexico, 11:30 a.m. MT Saturday (ROOT). Rams will end their home season on a high note, but a big game at Air Force next week looms: Colorado State 45, New Mexico 22.

2. Boise State (8-2, 5-1): Still not far behind Colorado State in the rankings. The Broncos had to rally from first-half deficits in their last two games, but they lead the MW in scoring (37.7 ppg) and they find ways to win games. This week: at Wyoming, 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2). Boise State is 8-0 all-time against Wyoming, and it will make it 9-0 in a game closer than some may think. Boise State 27, Wyoming 20.

3. Utah State (8-3, 5-1): Can still win the Mountain Division, but needs some help. The Aggies have allowed the fewest points in the MW this season (213), and just keep winning. This week: vs. San Jose State, 7:30 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN2). Perhaps the rest of the country will see why Utah State is one of the best stories in college football as they win their ninth game despite playing their fourth quarterback due to injuries. Utah State 30, San Jose State 14.

4. Air Force (8-2, 4-2): The fourth team from the Mountain Division with eight or more wins, and perhaps one of the more underrated teams in the country. A big test comes this week, but no matter what the Falcons do the rest of the season, the program has bounced back nicely after going 2-10 in 2013. This week: at San Diego State, 7:30 p.m. MT Friday (CBSSN). Should be a low-scoring game between two good defenses. Going with the home team, but not feeling overly confident with that. San Diego State 24, Air Force 21.

5. Nevada (6-4, 3-3): Leaders in the West Division and still the favorite to win that division despite an overtime loss at Air Force last week. Capable of beating any team in the league, but also capable of losing to them all. This week: vs. Fresno State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPNU). The division title is on the line in this one. Going with the home team and senior quarterback Cody Fajardo. Nevada 38, Fresno State 31.

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Mountain West football power rankings/picks – Week 11

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi with his weekly installment of the Mountain West football power rankings and picks for Week 11 of the college football season. Look for this every week during the football season, and as always, your feedback is welcome.

1. Colorado State (8-1 overall, 4-1 MW): Got to stick with the Rams as they won their league-leading seventh straight game last week at San Jose State. However, senior quarterback Garrett Grayson and sophomore receiver Rashad Higgins got banged up. This week: vs. Hawaii, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPNU). The Rams should keep rolling, but keeping Grayson healthy has to be a concern moving forward. Colorado State 33, Hawaii 20.

2. Boise State (6-2, 3-1): One of four bowl eligible teams in the conference, and maybe the best team right now based on its win over Colorado State in Week 2. Since his benching in a loss at Air Force, senior quarterback Grant Hedrick has been on fire. He’s completing 72.5 percent of his passes this season. This week: at New Mexico, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (CBSSN). The Broncos should roll, but the Lobos will put up a fight. Boise State 42, New Mexico 21.

3. Utah State (6-3, 3-1): The Aggies continue to be one of the more amazing stories in of college football. On their fourth different starting quarterback due to injuries, but still winning games. Heck of a program there in Logan, and a heck of a defense that is tops in the MW in rushing defense (90 ypg), turnovers forced (25) and sacks (37). This week: at Wyoming, 6 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN2). Even though the Aggies play on a short week after playing at Hawaii, it’s hard not to pick them. Utah State 24, Wyoming 13.

4. Air Force (6-2, 2-2): Won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy last week against Army. A great comeback story after winning only two games last year. One of the better defenses the Falcons have had in a while. They’ve allowed 96 points in four conference games. This week: at UNLV, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Network — online). Air Force can’t afford a letdown, but it usually handles these games well. Air Force 28, UNLV 20.

5. Nevada (6-3, 3-2): The Wolf Pack’s home win over San Diego State was its biggest of the season — conference-wise — and puts it atop the West Division. Nevada also is the only bowl-eligible team in that division right now, and only one with a winning streak (three). This week: Off.

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Border War key to the game; along with notes, quotes and video

Here is WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi’s top key to the game for the Wyoming Cowboys in their Border War game against Colorado State, which kicks off at 5 p.m. today at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Communication: Talking about Wyoming’s defense. With two of its most important starters out with injuries — free safety Darrenn White and outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha — and possibly two other starters (senior defensive end Sonny Puletasi and senior cornerback DeAndre Jones). It is vital the Cowboys know what they are doing against a high-powered Colorado State offense that will use a lot of shifts and motions at the line of scrimmage to set up mismatches.

Gagliardi and WyoSports editor Scott Nulph preview today’s game on their weekly video blog:

This game over the years always has featured players and coaches with ties to both schools.

UW lists 20 players from Colorado on its roster, and 13 have starting experience. Many of them know CSU players going back to when they were in high school. Some were recruited by both schools, others were shunned by Colorado State.

UW senior defensive end Riley Lange, who is from Parker, Colorado, talks about that this week:

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Nzeocha latest to go down with season-ending injury

The news was expected, but still bad nonetheless.

Mark Nzeocha

Mark Nzeocha

Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl said prior to Tuesday’s practice that senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha is “extremely doubtful” to be back this season because of a knee injury suffered in the first half in last Saturday’s 27-20 overtime loss to San Jose State.

Nzeocha leads UW with 59 tackles, and also was one of the team’s better players on special teams.

“Mark played critical roles on the punt team and the kickoff coverage team, and we view all those things as critical as well,” Bohl said. “When all those defensive starters get hurt, typically there’s a residual effect that comes on special teams. We are preparing for that right now.”

Nzeocha joins senior free safety and co-captain Darrenn White as defensive starters lost due to knee injuries. And, you can make a strong point that both guys are the two most important players on UW’s defense this season.

Nzeocha is a four-down linebacker who is good against the run and the pass. He played middle linebacker in nickel situations this season. White was the quarterback of the defense making calls and also making sure guys were lined up right.

The two combined for 101 tackles, six pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

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Bohl to see much improved Colorado State team Saturday

On Sept. 8, 2012, coach Craig Bohl took his North Dakota State team into Colorado State and beat the Rams 22-7.

That was the second game for then first-year Colorado State coach Jim McElwain, and the first of six straight losses for the Rams as they finished 4-8.

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

A little more than two years later, Bohl will take another team to Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins. This time as the first-year coach at Wyoming. While some of the Rams’ players and coaches will be the same, Colorado State is a much different squad.

Different in the fact that it is the hottest team in the Mountain West. The Rams have won five straight games, are 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference and became the first bowl-eligible team in the MW after its 16-13 home win over Utah State last week. The Rams also have won 12 of their last 15 games dating back to last season.

“They’ve made great strides with the program and it will be a big challenge,” said Bohl during his Monday news conference.

“You look at their quarterback and (senior Garrett) Grayson’s a guy who’s played an awful lot of football; he’s got 27 starts. He’s throwing the football well and he’s got a great touchdown-to-interception ratio (16 touchdowns, five interceptions). He’s operated the offense very well and I’ve seen significant improvement in him personally the last couple of years.

“While they replaced an awful lot of offensive linemen, they’re playing well as a group together. And they got good skilled players. On defense they have a strong conviction in their scheme and what they’re doing. Probably their strongest part of their whole football team is their special teams. When you put all three of those phases together, you’ve got a solid football team that’s well coached and that’s why they’re receiving top 25 votes.”

Here is video of Bohl’s news conference from Monday:


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Mountain West football power rankings/picks – Week 6

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi with his weekly installment of his Mountain West football power rankings and picks for Week 6 of the college football season. Look for this every week during the football season, and as always, your feedback is welcome.

1. Nevada (3-1 overall, 1-0 MW): The Wolf Pack didn’t jump from No. 2 to No. 1 just because of its 21-10 road win at San Jose State, but it also has allowed the fewest points of any MW team this season (77). Throw in dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo and, at least right now, Nevada is at the top. This week: vs. Boise State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBSSN). We should see how good Nevada is this week. Boise State is will be mad and motivated after a road loss at Air Force. Going to go with the road team in a close one. Boise State 24, Nevada 21.

2. Colorado State (3-1, 0-1): An impressive 24-21 win at Boston College last week. The Rams lead the conference in total offense (492 ypg) and are second in scoring (32 ppg). A couple of key starters a banged up this week — including quarterback Garrett Grayson, but it won’t matter much this week. This week: vs. Tulsa, 1 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Network — online only). The Rams’ impressive offensive numbers should climb and they will win their third straight game. Colorado State 38, Tulsa 16.

3. Air Force (3-1, 1-1): One of the biggest moves up this week. Not many saw the Falcons’ 28-14 home win over Boise State coming. Air Force leads the MW in scoring (33.2 ppg) and is third in scoring defense (21.2 ppg). Maybe the biggest surprise is it is seventh nationally in rushing defense (82.2 ypg). This week: vs. Navy, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBSSN). This game should decide the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy winner this year. Again, going with the road team here in a close one. Navy 27, Air Force 23.

4. San Diego State (2-2, 1-0): An expected 34-17 home win over UNLV last week, but let’s see if the Aztecs can go on the road this week in league play and win. SDSU also will start a true freshman quarterback in Nick Bawden. Its stay in the top four may not last long — or could it? This week: at Fresno State, 8 p.m. MT Friday (CBSSN). For some reason I like road teams this week. I think the Aztecs will play good enough defense to make Fresno throw the ball more, which is not a good thing. San Diego State 28, Fresno State 20.

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Mountain West football power rankings/picks – Week 5

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi with his weekly installment of his Mountain West football power rankings and picks for Week 5 of the college football season. Look for this every week during the football season, and as always, your feedback is welcome.

1. Boise State (3-1 overall, 1-0 MW): The Broncos remain a solid No. 1, They have won three straight since their season-opening loss to Ole Miss, and have outscored their opponents 104-54 during that time. This week: at Air Force, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (CBSSN). Boise State may have some issues with Air Force, but in the end the Broncos will be too physical and talented. Look for another big game from junior running back Jay Ajayi, who leads the MW with 494 yards and five touchdowns. Boise State 34, Air Force 21.

2. Nevada (2-1, 0-0): The Wolf Pack was off last week, and is the only team in the West Division with a winning record. An improved defense and senior quarterback Cody Fajardo should make Nevada the favorite in that division moving forward. This week: at San Jose State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBSSN). A game Nevada needs to win if it is going to be a factor in the West Division. Nevada 38, San Jose State 24.

3. Colorado State (2-1, 0-1): The Rams also were off last week, but the play of other teams in the league last week moved them up a couple of spots. Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson leads the MW with 331 passing yards per game, and with 332 yards of total offense per contest. This week: at Boston College, 10:30 a.m. MT Saturday (ROOT). The Rams make the long trip across the country to face a B.C. squad that beat USC at home a couple of weeks ago. This trip won’t end well for CSU. Boston College 27, Colorado State 13.

4. Wyoming (3-1, 1-0): All three of the Cowboys’ wins have been at home and by a combined 10 points. Two were come-from behind wins. You’ve got to admire the never-quit attitude, but things have to improve, especially on offense, moving forward as the Pokes average just 17 points per game. This week: at No. 9 Michigan State, 10 a.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2). Both teams run similar schemes offensively and defensively, but Michigan State does it much better. Michigan State 42, Wyoming 10.

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UW-CSU Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Kelly Lyell, who covers Colorado State football for the Fort Collins Coloradoan about Saturday’s Border War with the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @KellyLyell

Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.

 

How is Colorado State mentally and physically after its 34-27 homecoming loss to San Jose State? From comments from coaches and players it appeared that was a tough loss for the squad to take.

It was an unusually tough loss for the Rams. It was the conference opener and a chance to get a fresh start after going 2-3 in nonconference games. It was an opportunity to build on the momentum gained from wins over Cal Poly and UTEP, sandwiched around a strong showing in a loss at top-ranked Alabama. There were 26,022 fans — the largest crowd at Hughes Stadium since last year’s Boise State game — there for them to win back after four disappointing seasons in a row.

Plus, they blew a second-half lead in a game they went on to lose again, just as they had done in the first two games of the season against Colorado and Tulsa. It was a real setback for the Rams.

Physically, it took a toll, too, with star linebacker Shaquil Barrett suffering an ankle sprain that has made him questionable for the Border War, and nose tackle Josh Lovingood, a true freshman who made his first start while senior Calvin Tonga deals with “some personal issues” suffering a foot injury that could require surgery. Tonga isn’t expected to play this week, either, so the Rams will be down to a rotation of their third-, fourth- and fifth-stringers at nose tackle.

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UW-CSU Border War Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Kelly Lyell, who covers Colorado State football for the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Look for Q&As with writers who cover the opponents of the University of Wyoming football program every Friday.

What are the biggest differences you see in the program with new coach Jim McElwain compared to former coach Steve Fairchild?

The biggest differences are in the attitude of the players and coaching staff. McElwain emphasizes a sense of family and forces players to get to know and respect each other, and one of the first things he did was eliminate the daily competition that Fairchild had set up between the offense and defense. McElwain considers it his job to develop his players and not try to make them do things they’re not likely to be able to accomplish. Fairchild had an NFL coaching style that expected players to motivate themselves, and regularly chewed them out when they couldn’t do what needed to be done to execute his offensive and defensive systems. Players clearly prefer McElwain’s style, even if it doesn’t seem to be producing any more success right now than Fairchild’s did.

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